Cambodia, of markets and insects
Every year I descend on Phnom Penh in Cambodia to build houses for the less fortunate villagers out in the wilds, usually that is about 3-4 hours out from the city. Please check out the charity we go every year to help; http://www.tabithasingapore.com. Because of these amazing experiences and trips there I truly have fallen in love with Cambodia, the extremely sad history, the incredibly proud people, the beautiful country-side, and of course the incredible variety of food. You know me – I cannot keep away from the local food, the markets, the street vendors. So here are some of the experiences I have had along the way. Cambodia, of markets and insects – a wee walk through some of my experiences.
To some market food now and first out of the blocks for you is a beauty. A beef curry noodle soup. Actually it turns to more of a noodle dish with deep dark meaty beefy gravy. This thing is just awesome, believe me. A picture paints a thousand words, for sure, but seriously a picture cannot show the taste and smells of this dish. This is traditionally a breakfast dish for those in the markets to build up energy and strength to work the stalls all day long. Mary and I went back once to our favourite markets stall about 11am on one trip and that hawker was closing big time – get there early folks. Luckily at 11am the only dish they had left to serve was this, something so wonderful in my Cambodia, of markets and insects.
Known locally as Kuy Theaw. Seriously just look at it, how good does that look. Easy to find too as this is a very popular one with locals – just go to the markets and find the food courts surrounding them. We went by the Mekong River, near to the main food/wet market on a recommendation, truly going for Cambodia, of markets and insects. Here is a food court called 126, on a corner right opposite the market. You therefore have the wonderful experience of watching Cambodians about their daily business, buying, selling, eating, laughing. As a foodie and people watcher it really does not get much better than this. All for the princely sum of 2 bucks!! You just have to try this! Get to 126.
I have actually re-created this one now, so it is on my blog and you can cook it yourself. Check it out at; https://islifearecipe.net/kuytheaw/
The next experience amazed as well. Driving back one day from house building, our driver starts pointing out of the window across the road. A point of interest it seemed, but no one could see what he was referring to. Then luckily he spotted the same point of interest on our side of the road and stopped. At first we got bombarded by ladies selling green mango with chill/salt dip (which is also just mind-blowing good snack food).
And then there she was – this lady below. And what the f*ck is that on the plate she’s carrying? Yeap it’s cooked tortoises with their eggs. Did you hear me? Yes cooked tortoises with their eggs. Looks amazing and bloody weird all at the same time. This really is Cambodia, of markets and insects, perhaps even a little on steroids. I would not exactly say it looks edible, or tasty, but certainly it looks very interesting. Did I try some? Did I hell. My mate Brownie in UK would never forgive me, as he is a tortoise breeder.
I suppose you would have to slow cook it. Get it? Tortoise = slow, and slow cook? OK I give up! As you walk the markets you do indeed espy just the strangest things, well this is Cambodia, of markets and insects– I mean check out below in the market, is this a pet shop or is this actually a market stall?
So now let me give you some of the memories of Cambodia, of markets and insects – pictorially.
I have been twice to Cambodian cooking classes with this amazing chap called Kung Kea Hun, from Frizz restaurant. Effeminate as could be, so my shirt and watch clearly are befitting.
This is a chap that learnt to cook at Friends Restaurant, the non-profitable organisation created to drag the homeless of the street, and to teach them F&B from waiting, cooking, to bar-staffing. This year through chatting we find out that he has cooked for the King of Cambodia. Funny though was that he had to cook French style as apparently the King is not a great fan of local food – go figure. Amazing for a guy that was a street orphan. Before the cooking class he walks you through the market to buy produce for the cooking lesson, so this is ideal to be part of Cambodia, of markets and insects – let me give a few images of those experiences to you now.
Here comes on recipe from our mentor/trainer/chef today. This is called Kari Krahorm Saich Moan, or simply a pretty basic red curry.
For the Curry paste;
- 4 finely chopped kaffir lime leaves;
- 1/4 kaffir lime zest;
- 1″ peeled and chopped fresh turmeric;
- 1″ peeled and chopped galangal;
- 3 teaspoons of shrimp paste;
- 3 finely chopped shallots;
- 3 finely chopped garlic cloves;
- 2 tablespoons of crushed salted peanuts;
- 2 stalks of thinly sliced lemon grass – make sure you peel a few layers away first as they will be tough and woody; and
- 4 finely chopped chili padi.
Get out your pestle and mortar, as you are going to need it right now (or cheat with blender). First crush the lemon grass, add lime zest, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallot, shrimp paste and chili and bash that until it is a smooth smooth paste. Takes a while believe me, as Mary will also testify to.
Main dish – serves about 4;
- Of course you’ll be needing the curry paste above;
- 4 dried chilis seeded and chopped;
- 2.5 cups coconut milk;
- 500g chicken cut to small pieces;
- 2 cups of chicken stock;
- 1.5 tablespoons of palm sugar (or brown sugar – but palm is best);
- 4 tablespoons of fish sauce;
- A cup of long beans cut to 1″ long pieces; and
- 1-2 star anise.
In a pan bring the coconut milk to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and when it goes a little thicker add in the curry paste and fry until fragrant. Add the star anise, chopped chilis and fish sauce and mix well. Add the chicken and stir to make sure all get nicely coated in the sauce. Add the beans, sugar, and stock and again continue to stir. Lower the heat and allow to simmer until the beans and chicken are cooked. That should be about 10 minutes or so, not too long.
Simply serve with some steamed white rice. I guarantee you will not eat this once and once only. This is a go back for more meal. Simply gorgeous! It’s all in the paste!!!
Back to more adventures of Cambodia, of markets and insects. What half of the stuff is I just could not tell you. But the smells are wonderful, there is such variety of colours and textures. It’s just all so beautiful to see – and if you acted like a tourist and just went to the tourist spots you’d miss it all.
Dried whole skate next, baby ones, but still it’s one of those “you don’t see that every day” moments.
I watched this lady for ages. She was using hand scales, weighing out slices of fish fillet that she has literally just butchered there and then in front of you. Cat Fish mainly but also Tiger Fish. Big teeth and stripes, wonder why they call them Tiger fish. The Mekong has some interesting dwellers.
Look at these crabs. Well we are surrounded by mangroves and the Mekong River, so I suppose its not surprising that you get these crabs, almost like mini stone crabs. Beautiful colours.
My turn to shop now, it’s beef jerky time. One for Ollie and I. This though you need to cook not just eat raw. Again some steamed or even better fried rice with this would be awesome. This has simply been rubbed in some spices and salt and dried in the fierce sun of Cambodia.
Now to another dish from one of our cooking courses -banana flower sausages. This is quite simple and so so tasty. Really like this one. Banana flower sausages.
You will need for the sausages;
- 1 banana flower (or Chinese cabbage – something like that);
- 2 tablespoons of coriander;
- 200g of chicken breast chopped to a fine mince (or cheat and get chicken mince – plus I think pork mince would be great for this); and
- 1 chili finely chopped.
- A tablespoon or so of soy sauce;
- A tablespoon or two of banana vinegar (or white wine vinegar); and
- 1 chopped chili padi.
Take a pan and add about 2 inches of vegetable oil for shallow frying. Fry the young banana leaves or cabbage leaves until softened. Take out and drain on some kitchen towel.
Mix the chicken, coriander and chili in a bowl and then place at one end of the leaf. Roll over, then fold in the sides and continue to roll to form a sausage and hold together with a cocktail stick. Once done back to the oil for about 5-10 minutes of frying. A quick drain on some kitchen towel and serve with the dipping sauce. Ta Dah. Damn easy right!!!!
More Cambodia, of markets and insects. Off to the Central Market now and I walked past a lady, did a double take and “HOLD ON A MINUTE….” What is that. One of those pet shop/restaurant moments. Let’s get a little closer will that help to see better.
Next time we get a spider, or cockroach in the condo, I may just get a fry up going on. No more Baygon for me. Hey Mary look, no need to go shopping there’s dinner running up the wall. You certainly have an ability to test yourself when doing Cambodia, of markets and insects.
And now to recipe number three from our Cambodian trips. Amok – the banana cup.
I remember all this being very much more detailed and hard on the day (perhaps it was the beers I had consumed). Here is the recipe from the booklet we received as part of our training package. Also it must be stated that I think it is all up to you, add more of this, less of that and you have created your own style/version of this delicious dish. Which is exactly how it happened in our cooking class with 12 or so different variations of flavour.
Amok is a Cambodian curry which is steamed instead of boiled, and is therefore solid, but still very very moist. There are traditionally two types of Amok, one cooked with fish and steamed in banana leaf cups, simply known as Amok. The other is made from snails steamed in their shells, this is known as Amok Chouk. We were making the former this time. Some chefs add crushed peanuts to the fish mixture, although it is said that more traditional chefs state that is a breach of the original recipe.
Cut a circle from the banana leaf using a saucepan lid (25cm diameter), then very lightly waft it over a gas flame. It basically releases the oils, issuing a beautiful smell. You then fold over to create a corner and hold in place with a cocktail stick – repeat this 4 times for the 4 corners of the cup. You are finished now with this part! Although you do need to repeat that four times.
The curry paste;
- 5 dried chilis, soak, drain and chop finely;
- 3 garlic cloves;
- 2″ of galangal cut to small pieces;
- 1 lemongrass stalk thinly sliced;
- The zest of 1/4 kaffir lime;
- 1 teaspoon of salt;
- 1 tablespoon of cane sugar; and
- 1/2 shallot finely sliced and diced.
As you’ll see from what we did with the pestle and mortar you have to pound and pound this mixture to get to the fine paste, and believe me out Chef made us get to a super fine paste! But equally you could grab a food processor and add all Kroeung ingredients and blitz – done! Set aside.
Amok – the additions;
- 3 tablespoons of fish sauce;
- 2 tablespoons of kaffir lime leaves;
- 3 chili padi;
- 500g firm white fish (snapper would be good);
- 3/4 cup coconut cream;
- 2 cups coconut milk; and
- 1 egg beaten.
Slice the fish finely and set aside, slice the kaffir lime leaves and chilis thinly into tooth picks.
Stir the Kroeung in to 1 cup of coconut milk until it dissolves, add the egg, fish sauce and sliced fish. Add the remaining coconut milk and mix well. Literally then pour the mixture in to the 4 banana cups you have made and place in to a steamer for 15-20 minutes until set. Turn upside down on a plate and slide the banana cups off.
Then garnish with a little blob of coconut cream, some of the sliced chili and kaffir lime leaf. And that as they say is it! Looks damn good, tastes incredible.
One final funny Cambodia, of markets and insects story. The market we visit and where we eat next too is 100% food. It’s all that is on sale. Or so I thought, until one year, when walking past dried fish, eggs, meat, and bubbling cauldrons of very interesting concoctions I spied this.
To close here is a quote from the Lonely Planet tour guide for Cambodia, which really sums this beautiful country up for me in one simple paragraph; “The years of fear and loathing are over. Right now, Cambodia is just about as hot as it gets on the Global travel map. Peace has come to this beautiful yet blighted land after three decades of war, and the Cambodian people are embracing the world. Tourism is taking off, but a journey to this little kingdom is still one of Asia’s genuine adventures. Finally there are the people. Cambodians have weathered years of bloodshed (nearly 2 million died under Pol Pot), poverty (minimum wage about 1.5 USD a day, GDP per person per annum 820 USD compared to circa 50,000 USD in Singapore), and political instability. Somehow they have come through the experience with their smiles ever present; no visitor can leave Cambodia without an huge amount of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this beautiful beautiful land.”